When considering attempting the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago, plan ahead to avoid the unexpected. Below we offer a list of basic recommendations that should be borne in mind before starting out on the pilgrimage.
It is a good idea to prepare a 'stage plan', bearing in mind that the most common rhythm is to walk between 25-30 kilometres a day. It is advisable to plan short stages at the beginning so that you get used to walking the distances. Also programme rest days from time to time, perhaps coinciding with the places you would most like to visit. Let your family and friends know your plans and dates so that you can be contacted in the event of an emergency.
St James’s Way is a well-signposted route, in such a way that the pilgrim only has to follow the yellow arrow, get carried away and enjoy the things they discover along the path.
The signs are disparate but leave no doubt as to the path to follow: yellow arrows, information panels, metal signs, ceramic plaques, perspex arrows... tell us the right way to go. You can also find other “unofficial” signs such as small piles of stones and crosses that pilgrims leave along the way.
Where to start?
A common doubt is where to start the French Route. It is important to remember that the stage from St. Jean de Pied de Port to Orreaga/Roncesvalles is the hardest off all, not so much for the distance as for the great difference in height (more than 1,000 metres). So, for the fittest people it is worth starting the Way in the beautiful town of St, Jean Pied de Port in the French Basque Country. For everyone else, it is advisable to start the route more gently from Orreaga/Roncesvalles.
IMPORTANT: from 1 November to 31 March, the Luzaide/Valcarlos route is the only option for the stage from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Orreaga/Roncesvalles. The Lepoeder or Napoleón route is strictly forbidden.
When to go
The summer guarantees good weather but it is also the busiest time and there could be accommodation problems. During the winter (from October to March) you run the risk of finding rain and maybe even snow. September and May are ideal months because of their pleasant climate and fewer pilgrims along the route. If you come from a colder country, remember that it is important to adapt gradually to the sunshine.
Food and hydration
It is advisable to eat foods that are rich in carbohydrates: bread, cereals, jams, cold meats, pasta, rice, potatoes, biscuits, energy bars, fruit and nuts. It is a good idea to increase the number of meals a day but eat less food each time. If you walk in the morning, breakfast should be big, but if you walk in the afternoon/evening, it is better to eat lightly two hours before starting. Along the route, eat fresh fruit and nuts, which will give you the necessary energy to cover the stage.
You also need to drink a lot of liquid to avoid dehydration, with the drinks preferably not being too col. Do not wait until you are thirsty, because that only happens when the body has already started to dehydrate. If it is very hot, add salt to the water and maybe even a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda. Be caregul with fountains, streams and rivers along the way. It is important to ensure that the water can be drunk.
Clothing and footwear
Wear loose light clothing that 'breathes and insulates your skin. It should be easy to wash and dry. Only take clothes you reallly need (3 T-shirts, two pairs of trousers and three changes of underwear and socks). Remember to take a hat, sunglasses and a raincoat or a cape.
Wear light, wide shoes that are well-sprung, comfortable and ventilated. The footwear should protect the ankles from sprains and allow you to walk on irregular surfaces. If it is new, walk two or three 10-15-kilometre sections before staring the Way. We recommend comfortable cotton socks that breathe and protect the feet from chafing and blisters. When you finish a stage, put on some flip-flops or comfortable trainers. If your shoes have got wet during the stage, dry them by putting newspapers inside them. If you do this three times, the paper will absorb the humidity and leave the shoes ready for use next day.
The backpack should adapt to your weight and size. It should be light, anatomical and fastening at the waist and chest. Remember: once it is full it should not weigh more than 10% of the pilgrim's body weight, with a maximum of 9 kilos. A good idea to keep your clothes tidy, avoid smells and stop your clothes getting wet if it rains is to line the inside the backpack with a large garbage bag and keep your clothes in small plastic bags. The heaviest and bulkiest objects should be placed vertically and close to your back. Excessive weight will lead to pains in the back and feet. Guides, cameras and other frequently objects should be easily reached so you do not have to take everything out of the backpack each time.
First aid kit
It is very important to take certain drugs to stop common illnesses (colds, headache or stomach pains, stings, blisters). Scissors, needle and thread to cure blisters, high-protection sun cream, muscle pain cream, analgesics, sticking plasters and foot cream.
Other useful things to take
A few suggestions: bar of soap to wash clothes, can opener, knife and spoon, torch, safety pins or pegs to hang clothes, ear plugs, toilet paper, and a towel and shoulder pads to avoid the straps of the backpack rubbing your shoulders. It is a mistake to take saucepans and frying pans, but do not forget to take a sleeping bag and folding mat because some hostels offer places on the floor. If you are cycling, you will need a padlock, helmet and tight-fitting clothing.The use of walking sticks helps to take the weight off and protect your ankle and knee joints.
Take care of the Pilgrim's Way
It is everyone's responsibility to keep the Way clean by using the rubbish bins and toilets etc. that are located along the route or in the towns and villages. Never leave clothes or shoes behind along the way.
Safety on the Way
The Chartered Police of Navarre (Policía Foral) have set up a special surveillance device to protect pilgrims as they follow the Santiago Way. Consult the recommended safety tips in this leaflet.
When walking along roads always do so on the left hard shoulder, against the direction of the traffic. It is best not to walk at night, but if you do remember to wear reflectors.
Set off early to avoid the hottest hours of the day, protect yourself from the sun and drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated.
"Route of Napoleon", is prohibited for safety reasons from 1 November to 31 March (+info)